Sunday, May 29, 2016

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide

Welcome to FromDC2Iowa, a collection of well over 1,000 blog posts and pages on a wide variety of topics, created and maintained by Nicholas Johnson since 2006.

Quick Links
* Most recent blog essay: "Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

* Most recent UI & President Harreld-related items & comments:

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016 (an expanded version of The Daily Iowan's excerpt, above)

UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

Cessation of Ongoing Harreld Repository [Feb. 29]. For the past six months, since the Iowa Board of Regents' selection of Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, September 1, 2015, this blog has endeavored to compile a relatively complete repository of links to, and comments about, the news stories and opinion pieces dealing with the Board of Regents, President Harreld, and related items of relevance to higher education in general and the University of Iowa in particular. They are contained in the blogs for September-October, November, December, 2015, and January and February, 2016 (all linked from this page). I thought it would be a useful resource for those looking for a single source to follow the saga, as well as for those in future years wishing to do serious research, or merely inform themselves, about this important slice of UI's history. Response from readers indicates it has at least provided the former function. Now as they say, "as a concession to the shortness of life," and a desire to get back to other writing, I am going to reclaim those daily hours of research for other tasks. As major UI stories worthy of individual blog essays come along they will, of course be blogged about from time to time.

For research beyond February 29, 2016, you might start with this list (any omissions were inadvertent; email me suggestions for more):

University of Iowa AAUP, https://twitter.com/UIowaAAUP

Mark Barrett, Ditchwalk, http://ditchwalk.com (look for Harreld Hire Updates)

Iowans Defending Our Universities, https://twitter.com/IowansDefending

John Logsdon, https://www.facebook.com/johnlogsdon.jr, and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/JohnLogsdon

Josiah Pickard, https://twitter.com/uimemory

. . . and well-crafted search terms in Google. -- N.J., February 29, 2016
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More Detailed Contents, Links & Guide

The most recent blog essay (as distinguished from the entries listing UI-related material) is:"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

See more, below.

University of Iowa, most recent: The most recent month's collection in the ongoing repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters is: UI President Harreld - Feb. 2016," February 1, 2016

University of Iowa, earlier: Earlier collections of, and individual blog essays about, the repository of news, opinion pieces, and documents regarding the University of Iowa, its current president, Bruce Harreld, the Iowa Board of Regents, and related matters are:
UI President Harreld - Jan. 2016," January 1, 2016

"UI President Harreld - Dec. 2015," December 1, 2015

"UI President Harreld - Nov. 2015," November 1, 2015

"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2-October 31, 2015

Recent terrorism-related blog essays

Recent TIF-related blog essays

Recent other than (1) University of Iowa, (2) terrorism, or (3) TIF-related topics:
"Breaking Through Power: The Media," May 29, 2016

"What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," May 9, 2016, as published in The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4

"What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice: Senate Ignoring the People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?" March 23, 2016
"The Constitution, Supreme Court and People's Voice," March 21, 2016
"Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities," March 11, 2016
"Water," February 29, 2016
"The State of the Media," February 28, 2016
"Our Communities' Second Priority," February 7, 2016
"Bernie's Extraordinary, Unacknowledged Accomplishment," February 3, 2016
Why Nobody 'Wins' the Iowa Caucus," February 1, 2016
"Caucus With Your Heart And Head -- For Bernie," January 28, 2016
"Why I'm Caucusing for Sanders and You Should Too," January 22, 2016
"Reasons for Hope in 2016," December 25, 2015
"Feeling the Bern at The Mill," December 9, 2015
"Anyone for Democracy," November 22, 2015
General instructions on searching by heading, date, or topic

(1) If you've come to FromDC2Iowa and landed on this page, rather than what you are looking for, it is because this is the default page, the opening page, for this blog.

(2) Many visitors are looking for recent blog posts. At the bottom of this page you will find suggestions. At this time they include: (1) material related to the Iowa Board of Regents process for selecting President Bruce Harreld, and his ongoing performance in office, (2) terrorism, ISIS and Syrian refugees, and (3) TIFs, and other transfers of taxpayers' money to the wealthy.

(3) It is also possible to go directly to specific blog posts within this blog. Here's how:

First, go to the top of this page where you will see the headline, "Welcome to FromDC2Iowa: Contents & Guide" and click on it there (not as reproduced in this sentence). That will clean this page by removing blog posts from earlier this month.

In that right hand column you will find two ways of accessing individual blog posts:
(1) Blog Archive. The first is under the bold heading "Blog Archive.". You will see the years from 2006 to the present. Click on a year, and the months of that year will appear. Click on a month and the individual headlines for the blog posts during that month appear. Click on a headline and you will be transferred to that blog post. (Once there, you will see the unique URL address for that blog post that you can use in the future, or share with a friend, as a way to reach it directly.)

(2) Google Search Nick's Blog or Website. Immediately beneath the Blog Archive is the bold heading "Google Search Nick's Blog or Website," followed by an empty box, and the instructions, "Insert terms above; then click here." (Although it offers the option to search the "Nicholas Johnson Web Site" as well, it is set to the default: "FromDC2Iowa Blog.") Use whatever search terms you think most appropriate, such as "University of Iowa," "terrorism," "TIFs," or "Harreld." Your click will open up a Google search Web page listing the relevant blog posts (if any) with the links you can click on to see them.

University of Iowa's new President Bruce Harreld.
Looking for the blog post containing extensive repository of documents, news, opinion pieces (updated daily) from September 2 through October 31, 2015, regarding the Iowa Board of Regents' process, and early selection of UI President-elect Bruce Harreld? -->Click here<--

For November 2015 coverage -- with documents, news stories, and opinion pieces -- from his first day on the job, November 2, through November 30, 2015 -->Click here<--

For the December 2015 coverage -->Click Here<--

For the January 2016 coverage -->Click Here<--

In addition to these blog posts, which primarily contain chronological lists of documents, news articles and opinion pieces -- along with some relatively brief commentary about some of the items -- there are also the following more traditional blog essays and newspaper columns by Nicholas Johnson on these subjects:

"Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents," August 29, 2015

"Should Bruce Harreld Be Given Serious Consideration in UI Search?" embedded in "Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015

"Better Ways to Pick a New UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, embedded in "Seven Steps for Transitioning Universities," September 27, 2015

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

"Parallels Between School Systems Staggering," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 10, 2015, embedded in "UI and Higher Education in Context," November 9, 2015

"Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep," December 13, 2015

"Quick Draw Harreld and Why Language Matters," December 17, 2015

Terrorism, ISIS, Syrian Refugees.
Understanding Terrorist Thugs," The Daily Iowan, December 3, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Sober Risk Assessment Needed to Respond to Terror," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2015

Nicholas Johnson, "Syria's Refugees: Job One and Job Two," The Gazette, November 1, 2015

"Is U.S. Response Strengthening ISIS?" September 19, 2014

For additional speech texts, columns and blog posts on these subjects, see "Samples of Nicholas Johnson's Prior Writing on Terrorism and War"

TIFs and Other Crony Capitalism Schemes For links to 44 blog essays on these topics since 2006 see, "TIFS: Links to Blog Essays"

# # #

Breaking Through Power: The Media

Harnessing Progressive Reform to 21st Century Media

Nicholas Johnson
May 24, 2016

Ralph Nader’s “Breaking Through Power Conference”
Day 2, “Breaking Through the Media”
Washington, D.C., May 23-26, 2016

Video of the 20-minute presentation of these remarks can be found here, with many thanks for the efforts of Gregory Johnson's ResourcesForLife.com. YouTube videos of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4 are also available. Here is the Web page providing information about the Conference program and speakers, and Ralph Nader's Web page.


My name is Nicholas Johnson, and I'm not running for anything.

What you see here is my old FCC uniform.

I would have come with the long hair, shaggy beard, and cowboy mustache, but there wasn't time to grow them back.

So I settled on this Bernie Sanders haircut instead.

Having known and worked with Ralph and his family for the past half-century, it is a great pleasure to be able to share this commemorating conference with him, you, and The Real News Network audience.

He’s asked that I say something about the origins and values of American broadcast regulation, the demise of that system, and the past efforts of media reformers – to which I will add some thoughts on the options open to us in this 21st Century.

Because I am used to speaking for entire semesters at a time, my challenge this morning is putting all of this into my allotted 20 minutes.

Here goes.

“Long ago in a galaxy far away,” while European countries were choosing government ownership of things like railroads and telephone systems, Americans chose private ownership – modestly restrained by government regulation.

And so it was with broadcasting.

Most countries went the way of the BBCultimately a non-profit, public corporation.

Its first leader, Lord Reith, set the BBC’s public service standard: programming representing “all that is best in every department of human knowledge, endeavor and achievement.” He created the equivalent of our Fairness Doctrine, and a BBC as independent of commerce as of government – funding would come directly from listeners’ fees. Japan’s NHK, Sweden’s Sveriges Radio, and other countries followed this model.

Today's Corporation for Public Broadcasting is the American version.

In the 1920s, as the sale of radio receivers accelerated to 100 million, so did the number of stations increase. Their signals’ interference made intelligible reception difficult to impossible. As has so often been the case, it was the broadcasters who came to the government for regulatory relief. Government licensing was seen as a solution to chaos.

Of course, an added benefit was the elimination of competition.

Then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover responded to their request by calling a series of Radio Conferences. From them came the recommendations that ultimately became the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934.

It was the usual American compromise between the ideology of private ownership and the pragmatism of regulation through licensing. But the values at the foundation of the Act, shared by broadcasters, government and public alike, were very similar to those of Lord Reith.

Lord Reith’s “public service” standard became the Commission’s standard for the granting, renewal, or revocation of licenses – that radio programming serve “the public interest.”

Even broadcasters tended to agree with Secretary Hoover’s comment, echoing Lord Reith’s judgment, when Hoover said: "It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service [for news, entertainment, and education] to be drowned in advertising chatter." [at n. 17]

Lord Reith’s preference for public over private ownership was reflected in the House floor debate about the Act. As Congressman Luther Johnson warned his colleagues, “American thought and . . . politics will be . . . at the mercy of those who operate these stations. . . . [If] placed in the hands of . . . a single selfish group . . . then woe be to those who dare to differ with them.” [at n. 31]

Ultimately, the language of the Act began, “It is the purpose of this Act . . . to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of radio transmission; and to provide for the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof . . ..”

Without an FCC license a studio, transmitter, and antenna tower had little more than scrap value. With that license they were worth millions.

Moreover, the FCC told the licensee where it could build, set its minimum and maximum hours of operation, its transmitter’s power, and direction of its signal. There were limits on how many licenses one could hold, maximums on advertising, and required minimums of educational and cultural programming, news, public affairs, and public service announcements. The Commission’s 1946 “Blue Book” provided even greater detail.

Thus, FCC licensees were owners in name only – with little more discretion than government employees or contractors might have when using the public’s airwaves; sort of like fast food or motel franchisees.

When I arrived at the Commission a half-century ago, the FCC was supposedly still regulating broadcasters according to standards at least similar to those in the 1920s and 1930s.

But in Washington, like most industries, broadcasting had its own sub-government [pp. 16-19, nn. 49-59] – dominant corporations, their lobbyists, a trade association, trade press, eating club, agency employees, legislators, their staff, and a bar association for communication lawyers – all of whose futures and fortunes turned on successfully protecting their circled wagons.

Moreover, the money in this politics flowed upstream. Other industries had to pay to play [pp. 19-24, nn. 60-67]; they gave so-called campaign contributions to seek favor with elected officials. The reverse was true for the broadcasting industry. Elected officials gave most of their campaign contributions to the broadcasters! And the time and attention the broadcasters were selling to politicians was something they could also give for free.

So if the broadcasters were not successful in winning over the FCC’s commissioners and staff with private chats, free meals, receptions, golfing outings, and the prospects of future employment, they could always get what they wanted, or prevent what they feared, by going to their friends on Capitol Hill.

As a result, I discovered, no matter how outrageous a broadcaster’s performance might have been, the likelihood of a license not being renewed was so rare as to be indistinguishable from “never.” Rules were adopted, and then waived. Congressman Luther Johnson’s warnings about private power had been long since forgotten, as merger after merger was approved.

That, and more, was what motivated me to write some 400 separate opinions during my term. Charged with unfairly picking only the worst cases, I co-authored a Yale Law Journal article titled, courtesy of the Beatles, “A Day in the Life.” In it we itemized an entire week’s agenda, selected at random, and demonstrated how every decision that week left much to be desired.

My term coincided with a citizen activist period in American history – Ralph’s “Nader’s Raiders” consumer organizing, anti-war groups’ protests, civil rights legislation, Black Power demands, the women’s movement, protest songs, and “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

In such times it was inevitable that failures of the media, as well as the Commission and the Congress, would ultimately lead to the creation of a media reform movement as well. As I put it at the time to anyone who would listen, “Whatever is your first priority, your second priority must be media reform.”

It took a variety of forms. Al Kramer’s Citizens Communications Center provided the legal support for hundreds of media reform groups in communities across the country. Stations’ license renewals were challenged for failure to serve their local communities, or discriminatory employment practices. Some groups wanted to save classical music stations. Others created community, or even illegal pirate radio stations.

Video portapaks, the predecessor of today’s ubiquitous smartphone video, led to the interest in video art, guerrilla television, video activism and what became cable television’s public access channels.

Foundations and donors were willing to provide at least minimal financial support for these efforts. And because the uprising had kind of caught the media establishment off guard, there were a few years of media reform Camelot.

Following this, as at least some of you have lived through, the swamp waters returned. Many in the establishment made a sharp right turn to follow Grover Norquist. As he put it, “I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Drown it they did.

At the FCC this took the form of what was variously called “re-regulation” or more accurately “de-regulation.” License terms were lengthened. Restrictions on maximum station ownership were reduced to the point of non-existence. The Commission would not even acknowledge that a license renewal challenge had been filed, let alone address it. Seldom if ever did a merger fail to meet the commissioners' definition of “the public interest.”

As the fickle foundations focused on a new squirrel and lost interest, media reform organizations lost their funding. The courts lost their appeal. The Congress and Commission lost their sense of hearing.

Which brings us to this day in May of 2016.

What are we to make of the Tea Party, Occupy movement, and the millions of aware and angry Americans following Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Are we on the cusp of another burst of media reform revolution, enthusiasm and possibility?

Using the name of our day at this four-day conference, what can we do to “break through the media”?

It would be nice if we could wrap up today with an easily-remembered list of “five things you can do to improve the media!” But it’s not so simple. There are even more than five categories of things progressive activists can do before we start listing specific tasks – let alone trying to reinvigorate the FCC.

Here are a few, with illustrative examples.

Destination. Let’s start with the obvious. What’s your goal? How would you know if you or your organization were ever “successful”? As the old line has it, “If you don’t know where you’re going the odds are very slim you’ll ever get there.”

In what specific ways do you wish “the media” were different – and why? Are you trying to increase contributions, or members, for your local organization, and think positive column inches in the paper will help? Or are you trying to improve our political campaigns and the public officials they produce? And your goal is to raise the entire American electorate’s interest in articles and programming about the daily diet of policy wonks.

Opportunity. The lack of a legal right does not remove all opportunity. The Supreme Court has given media owners legal control of content. [at n. 24] But as we’ve recently observed, one can even win the presidential nomination of a major American political party without paying for broadcast time or newspaper space.

Progressive causes do not always do all they could to promote their efforts with public radio and television.

Even commercial media offer us opportunities with op ed columns and letters to the editor in newspapers, guest appearances on television, calls to radio talk shows, developing relationships with editors, producers, journalists and on-air personalities, making use of free kiosks, store windows, and bulletin boards.

Education. There’s something to be said for the suggestion, “if you really want to improve the quality of American media, start by spending more public money on K-12 and higher education” – specifically, in our case, on media literacy. If the media consumer can’t tell the difference between the junk news in ABC’s evening program and the truly significant there’s little more we can do.

Media. What do we mean by “media”? From the 1920s through the 1960s CBS and NBC were the dominant networks. ABC was said to make it only “a two-and-a-half network economy.” Media reformers wanted more diversity. Well, we got it – hundreds of cable channels, thousands of smart phone apps, billions of Internet users and Web pages, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The new social media have proven their worth to reformers, from the Arab Spring to the 2016 presidential campaign, and offer constantly evolving applications to all of us.

They've also required a re-definition of “journalist” – should it include everybody with a Web page, blog, email list, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter account?

Even more significant is that this increased diversity and quantity of communication brought with it a demise of the wealthy newspapers that formerly provided the electronic media with content.

TV no longer offers a 21st Century version of your grandparents’ Walter Cronkite, the most trusted American. It no longer provides a huge swath of the citizenry a shared body of consensus-building quality journalism each evening.

And the resulting political polarization has paralyzed the Congress and prevented compromise. According to a recent TED talk, it’s even reprogrammed our brains.

Alternatives. Are foundations and nonprofits a part of the answer? The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism is filling some of the void in my home state. Created and run by Lyle Muller, a quality former editor of a major Iowa paper, Iowa Watch is making investigative pieces available to Iowa papers.

What can we do to encourage our fellow citizens to include within their volunteer activities the possibility of studying, following, and then writing up the work of local institutions no longer covered by a beat reporter – say, a zoning board, county government, local hospital, major corporation, or university?

Regulation. It’s unlikely we’ll soon return to the micromanaging regulation of broadcasters of the 1920s through 1950s.

Nor would it make as much difference today as it did then were we to do so. An increasing source of Americans’ audio and video consumption today comes via the Internet, from Web pages, podcasts, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and independent cable programming producers. But that doesn't mean the old media are devoid of influence.

The FCC and Congress are still potential forces worth encouraging to support our efforts – as we've attempted, for example, with maintaining Network Neutrality.

What we do to use and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, or whistle-blower protections, are also a form of government support of journalism.

I might even offer what Donald Trump would call “suggestions” that we consider reinstating a modified Fairness Doctrine – at least as a shared value – and conceptualize an antitrust principle regarding media mergers that goes beyond the economic marketplace to the “marketplace of ideas.”

Pressure. Even without the force of government, pressure from private “regulation” of a sort can have its impact.

Here are five examples.
(1) So far as I know the only time the levels of TV violence were reduced was as a result of the 1970s efforts by the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting to identify and publicize the advertisers supporting the most violent programs.

(2) Project Censored reveals annually the ten most significant stories that failed to receive adequate presentation by mainstream media. FAIR and the journalism reviews provide continual oversight of media performance.

(3) For 41 years the Minnesota News Council received and publicized citizens’ grievances regarding the media.

(4) The academy can contribute much more than it has in terms of professors’ scholarship, seminars, and doctoral dissertations. More of our 15,000 school districts could give their students the tools of media literacy.

(5) And of course we'll all want to join Ralph's latest venture in breaking through media power, called simply “Voices.”
There’s much more to say, but no more time to say it. So I thank you for your attention, and very much look forward to the rest of the presentations at this historic conference.

# # #

Monday, May 09, 2016

What Putin Can Teach Rastetter

What Putin Can Teach Rastetter

Nicholas Johnson

The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4


[Photo used in The Daily Iowan's online version of the column; caption: "Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter announced the newly appointed President Bruce Harreld during a meeting in the IMU on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Harreld is the 21st president of the University of Iowa. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)."]

Regent President Bruce Rastetter appears to need some mentoring regarding the democratic dialogue between the state Board of Regents and the stakeholders of Iowa’s state universities — namely, all Iowans.

It might be too much of a shock to start with examples from the world’s great democracies, such as the British House of Commons Question Time, or President Obama’s “We the People Petitions.” That would be like Rastetter running naked from a Finnish sauna and jumping into a frigid snow bank. No, it’s best he begin with baby steps.

Perhaps he should start by studying the “formerly communist” countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spent his 20s and 30s with the KGB. Rastetter could begin by aspiring to achieve Putin’s style of democratic dialogue.

So how does this major country’s leader, this Donald Trump enthusiast since December 2015, the fellow whose attack jets flew at 500 mph near sea level and within feet of a U.S. Navy destroyer April 11 and 12, how did he go about a dialogue with his people two days later?

As the New York Times reported, Putin’s “live call-in show [ran] three hours and 40 minutes … [Q]uestions poured in about high prices, unpaid wages, rising utility bills, and the closing of schools and hospitals. In all, around 3 million questions …”

From the opening question, this was no nine-inning softball game. Putin acknowledged how many questions dealt with poor roads. Indeed, the first questioner showed a video of traffic on her roads, complained about the abundance of potholes and even got in some licks about the lack of sidewalks and bicycle paths.

As for Putin’s responsiveness, Rastetter might want to note the Times report that “after the first caller [from Omsk] complained about the poor state of the roads there, the city posted on Twitter pictures of new asphalt being laid down before Mr. Putin was off the air.”

There are a couple other things Rastetter might discuss with President Putin.

One is the tuition-free university education Russia provides its students and how Iowa might join this expanding group of progressive states and nations. (Russia has the highest percentage of college-educated citizens in the world.)

The other is how Putin gained a firmer grasp of American politics than Rastetter — who put his money (literally and figuratively) on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In December, President Putin had perceived Trump (whom he’s praised) as the candidate most likely to win the Republican nomination.

In summary, both Putin and Rastetter take questions from constituents. But there the similarity ends.

Putin takes the questions of greatest concern to Russians and answers or otherwise responds to them. Iowans get no responses; it’s not clear the regents even watch their video comments.

Putin gave the exchange nearly four hours, on nationwide television, during convenient times for viewers, in which he was an active participant. Rastetter devotes one hour, during times least likely to encourage participation, in which no regent participates.

Putin receives 3 million questions from 143 million people. A comparable goal for Rastetter, based on Iowa’s population, would be 60,000 inquiries from Iowans.

Hopefully, of course, he will soon be able to far exceed these minimalist communist standards.
_______________
Nicholas Johnson

NOTE: For the full text of the original blog essay from which this material was drawn, see "What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter," April 16, 2016.
# # #

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Russia's President Putin Can Teach Regents' President Rastetter

"'It’s extremely disrespectful to be talking to a camera instead of human beings,' University of Iowa student Brad Pector said in his address to the regents."

-- Katelyn Weisbrod, "Concerns Voiced at Regents Public Hearing," The Daily Iowan (online), April 16, 2017
Central to a representative democracy is the existence and efficacy of the dialogue between citizens and their representatives. There are many ways and contexts in which this can be done.

At the moment we're in the middle of one of them -- the party primaries and caucuses preceding a presidential election, with their accompanying opportunity for at least some citizens (starting with virtually all Iowans) to confront and question candidates one-on-one.

But the goals and methods of public dialogue are equally applicable in less dramatic contexts -- like the Iowa Board of Regents.

On Friday [April 15] Iowa Board of Regents' President Bruce Rastetter, and his supporting fellow Board members, put on a public display of their version of public dialogue with the stakeholders in Iowa's state institutions of higher education. They mounted a video camera in Room 2520C of the University of Iowa's Capital Centre, unattended by any Regent, where any who cared to do so could speak to this cold and unresponsive object of modern technology.

As if that was not discouraging enough, every other possible thing was done to minimize even the video camera's use.
* There was minimal notification of this stakeholder opportunity.

* Indeed, anyone exercising the initiative to search for information on the Regents' Web page would have been misled. Even someone willing to make the effort, who knew how to find the Regents' Web page, and who knew that what they were looking for was misnamed "Regents Public Hearings Schedule," would have discovered from the home page-linked document that the latest "hearing" was held last February.

* Persistent hunting for a schedule including Friday's opportunity would have required much more initiative, far away from the home page. "Public Hearings Schedule" ("4:00 – 5:00 p.m. University of Iowa University Capitol Centre, Room 2520C").

* Of all the buildings President Rastetter could have chosen for their "hearing," the "University Capitol Centre" (without providing a street address) would be one of the least well known among out-of-towners, Iowa City residents, and even University old timers and new arrivals. Thus, for some who might want to attend this would at least require some additional modest research.

* Only a total of one hour of the video camera's time was made available to stakeholders, each of whom would be severely limited to a three-to-five-minute slice of the hour. "Board of Regents, State of Iowa, Notice of Public Hearings Schedule," February 11, 2016, p. 2 (the document linked from the Regents' home page that only references "hearings" in February).

* Even worse, the chosen day and hour were the worst possible from among the 40 working hours available that week: from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. on a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree Friday afternoon in April.

* But of course the greatest deterrent to participation was the futility of doing so. As The Gazette's Vanessa Miller has described these "hearings": "The hearings occur the week before the board meetings, last one hour, and are staffed by institutional transparency officers. No regents attend the hearings in person, and speakers must talk into a video camera. Their messages are recorded . . .. No one verifies board members watch the videos." Vanessa Miller, "Speakers at University of Iowa Hearing Criticize 'Troubling' Regent Communication Process; 'Step Up or, in Fact, Step Down,'" The Gazette (online), February 18, 2016, 7:36 p.m. And for more material regarding this procedure, Mr. Rastetter's support of it, and others' objections, see below "Additional Related News Stories."
Clearly, Mr. Rastetter needs some mentoring, or at least some exposure to alternative means of promoting the democratic dialogue between himself and those Iowans with a stake in the state's institutions of higher education -- namely, all Iowans.

Admittedly, it would be as shocking to his system as his running naked out of a Swedish sauna in winter and jumping into a snowdrift to expose him, so to speak, to the contrast between what he is doing and the methods used today by some of the world's greatest democracies -- like the British House of Commons Question Time, or President Obama's Web-based opportunity for constituents to put questions and demand answers. For Rastetter, this is going to require baby steps. "Question Time," Parliament, "How Parliament Works" ("Question Time is an opportunity for MPs and Members of the House of Lords to question government ministers about matters for which they are responsible. [It] takes place for an hour, Monday to Thursday, after preliminary proceedings and private business.") "We the People Petitions," Whitehouse.gov.

Perhaps we should start with one of the world's largest communist countries -- Russia, headed by former KGB official Vladimir Putin. Once Rastetter has studied, practiced, and ultimately mastered Putin's approach to public dialogue, we could slowly introduce him to some of the more sophisticated techniques used in Western democracies.

Admittedly, there are some things that are a little problematical about President Putin. For example, "The White House said on Wednesday [April 13] that Russia had violated professional military norms over the Baltic Sea when one of its planes flew 'dangerously close' to an American ship [on April 11 and 12]. . .."Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "Russian Plane Flew Close to U.S. Ship in Baltic Sea, White House Says," April 14, 2016, p. A8. (Photo credit: U.S. European Command; "An Su-24 Russian attack jet roars by the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.")

What could be worse than that, you ask? Putin has endorsed Donald Trump! "'He is a bright and talented person without any doubt,' Putin said, adding that Trump is 'an outstanding and talented personality.' . . . [T]he Russian leader called Trump 'the absolute leader of the presidential race,' according to the Russian TASS news agency. Later Thursday [Dec. 17, 2015], Trump returned the warm words." Jeremy Diamond and Greg Botelho, "Putin Praises 'Bright and Talented' Trump," CNN Politics (online), December 17, 2015, including video of President Putin's endorsement, and Donald Trump's positive comments about Putin.

So how does this major communist country's leader, this Donald Trump enthusiast since last December, the fellow who was flying his attack jets at 500 mph near sea level and within feet of a U.S. Navy destroyer on Monday and Tuesday, how did he go about a dialogue with his people two days later?
President Vladimir V. Putin held his annual, live call-in show on Thursday [April 14] . . .. [T]he entire marathon [ran] three hours and 40 minutes, the 14th 'Direct Line' session . . .. Russians were clearly feeling vulnerable, as questions poured in about high prices, unpaid wages, rising utility bills, and the closing of schools and hospitals. In all, around three million questions were submitted by telephone and Internet . . .
Neil MacFarquhar, "Vladimir Putin’s Vulnerable Side Is at Fore in Call-In Show," New York Times, April 15, 2016, p. A6.

For more on this communist approach to public dialogue, including a video of the entire program (with an interpreter in English), see the Russian publication Sputnik News' report, "Topic: President Putin Holds Annual Q&A Session," April 14, 2016, 5:20 p.m.

I only watched the start of the program, but if the opening question was any indication it didn't sound like a softball question to me. Putin mentioned that a disproportionate number of the three million questions dealt with the deteriorating quality of the roads. Indeed, the first questioner presented video of traffic on the roads in her town, complained of the impact on vehicles of the abundance of potholes, as well as getting in some licks about the lack of sidewalks and bicycle paths.

As for Putin's responsiveness, Rastetter might want to note the Times report that, "Some problems seemed to be addressed quickly. After the first caller, from the city of Omsk, complained about the poor state of the roads there, the city posted on Twitter pictures of new asphalt being laid down before Mr. Putin was off the air."

While he's at it, there are a couple of other things, beyond public dialogue and prompt responsiveness, he might ask President Putin about.

One is the tuition-free university education nations including Russia provide their students, and how we might be able to join this expanding group of progressive nations. "Russia provides free education for all its citizens as guaranteed by their Constitution . . .." "Educational System in Russia," "Graduate Studies in Russia 2016, MastersStudies.com. "State higher education institutions offer courses which are free of charge for Russian citizens . . .." "Tuition Fees," Education in Russia for Foreigners. Whatever Russia is doing, it seems to be producing results: "According to a 2012 OECD estimate, 53% of Russia's adults (25- to 64-year-olds) has attained a tertiary (college) education, giving Russia the highest attainment of college-level education in the world . . .. In January 2016 the US company Bloomberg rated Russia's higher education as the third best in the world . . .." "Education in Russia," Wikipedia.

The other is how Putin manages to have a firmer grasp of American politics than Rastetter -- who put his money (literally and figuratively) on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, while President Putin perceived Trump as the candidate more likely to emerge from the Republican contest. See, "UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015.

In summary, both President Putin and President Rastetter take questions from constituents. But there the similarity ends.

President Putin receives the questions, he and his staff seem to select representative questions reflecting the issues of greatest concern to Russians, and then Putin answers or otherwise at least acknowledges and responds to them. Iowans cannot know whether President Rastetter and other Board members even watch the videos of Iowans' questions; what Iowans can know is that they will not receive any acknowledgment their questions were even received, and they certainly won't be getting answers, responses, or opportunities for dialogue.

President Putin, at least on this occasion, devoted nearly four hours of his "Direct Line" program to this dialogue, during hours convenient for the greatest number of people, broadcast nationwide, during which he was an active participant. President Rastetter devotes one hour, during the day and time least likely to encourage participation, in which neither he nor any other Regent participates.

President Putin receives three million questions from 143 million people. A comparable goal for President Rastetter, based on the comparative population of Iowa, as he slowly evolves the Regents' procedure to the standards of communist countries, would be 60,000 inquiries from Iowans -- something like 10,000 times the current level of participation. Hopefully, of course, he will in time be able to far exceed these mere communist standards.

# # #

Additional Related News Stories

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Commentators Call for New Head Regent; Views Recorded at Public Hearing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 16, 2016, p. A3

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI to Break Record for Comments to Regents? Input at Last 2 Video Hearings Set New Records," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 14, 2016, p. A3

Vanessa Miller, "Regents President Rastetter Criticizes Behavior at University of Iowa Town Hall for Harreld; Rastetter Praises Harreld's Efforts," The Gazette, February 25, 2016, 5:00 p.m.

A shorter version of this blog essay appeared in The Daily Iowan as "What Putin Can Teach Rastetter," The Daily Iowan, May 6, 2016, p. 4; and also available as a blog entry here. For the record, the text submitted to the paper was as follows:
Iowa Board of Regents President, Bruce Rastetter, appears to need some mentoring regarding the democratic dialogue between the Regents and the stakeholders of Iowa’s state universities -- namely, all Iowans.

It might be too much of a shock to start with examples from the world’s great democracies – like the British House of Commons Question Time, or President Obama’s “We the People Petitions.” That would be like Rastetter running naked from a Swedish sauna and jumping into a frigid snow bank. No, it’s best he begin with baby steps.

Perhaps he should start by studying the communist countries.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, spent his 20s and 30s with the KGB. Rastetter could begin by aspiring to achieve Putin’s style of democratic dialogue.

So how does this major communist country's leader, this Donald Trump enthusiast since last December, the fellow whose attack jets flew at 500 mph near sea level and within feet of a U.S. Navy destroyer April 11 and 12, how did he go about a dialogue with his people two days later?

As the New York Times reported, Putin’s “live call-in show [ran] three hours and 40 minutes . . .. [Q]uestions poured in about high prices, unpaid wages, rising utility bills, and the closing of schools and hospitals. In all, around three million questions . . ..”

From the opening question, this was no nine-inning softball game. Putin acknowledged how many questions dealt with poor roads. Indeed, the first questioner showed a video of traffic on her roads, complained about the abundance of potholes, and even got in some licks about the lack of sidewalks and bicycle paths.

As for Putin's responsiveness, Rastetter might want to note the Times report that, "After the first caller [from Omsk] complained about the poor state of the roads there, the city posted on Twitter pictures of new asphalt being laid down before Mr. Putin was off the air."

There are a couple other things Rastetter might discuss with President Putin.

One is the tuition-free university education Russia provides its students, and how Iowa might join this expanding group of progressive states and nations. (Russia has the highest percentage of college educated citizens in the world.)

The other is how Putin gained a firmer grasp of American politics than Rastetter -- who put his money (literally and figuratively) on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. In December, President Putin already perceived Trump (whom he’s praised) as the candidate most likely to win the Republicans’ nomination.

In summary, both President Putin and President Rastetter take questions from constituents. But there the similarity ends.

President Putin takes the questions of greatest concern to Russians and answers or otherwise responds to them. Iowans get no responses; it’s not clear Regents even watch their video comments.

President Putin gave the exchange nearly four hours, on nationwide television, during convenient times for viewers, in which he was an active participant. President Rastetter devotes one hour, during times least likely to encourage participation, in which no Regent participates.

President Putin receives three million questions from 143 million people. A comparable goal for President Rastetter, based on Iowa’s population, would be 60,000 inquiries from Iowans.

Hopefully, of course, he will soon be able to far exceed these minimalist communist standards. [For more: tinyurl.com/jpoho97]

# # #

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People's Voice

Senate Ignoring the People's Voice

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 8, 2016, p. A5

Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, April 7, 2016, 2:15 p.m.
Des Moines Register Online, April 8, 2016, 8:58 a.m.
"Examining the 'People's Voice,'" The Gazette, April 10, 2016, p. A3
The Gazette (online), April 10, 2016, 11:00 a.m.
"The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People’s Voice," The Daily Iowan, April 15,2016, p. 4 (not yet available online, 160415; a shorter version, with full text available below)

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint...Judges of the supreme Court." [Art. 2, Sec. 2.]

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. [Photo of Judge Merrick Garland.]

Of course, any senator can vote “no” on Garland’s confirmation.

That’s not enough for today’s Republican Senate leadership. It totally rejects all portions of the confirmation process.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court. Bork’s Senate hearing went badly. Nonetheless, his commitment to the Constitution caused him to insist on the full Senate’s confirmation debate and vote he knew he’d lose, saying “A crucial principle is at stake...the deliberative process.” [fn 1]

Given that the Republican Party professes as much allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution as of the Bible, their Senate leaders’ refusal to vote is difficult to square with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork. [fn 2]

What justification do they offer? Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says they want to "give the people a voice" in the selection of Supreme Court justices. [fn 3] Let’s examine this rationale.

(1) For starters, the Constitution’s drafters were more interested in muffling the people’s voice than in sharing the establishment’s power with “the people.”

(2) Ours was not to be a direct democracy with decisions made by national referenda. Elected representatives would make the decisions.

(3) There were severe restrictions on who could vote — initially only land-owning, white males over 21. African-Americans got the vote in 1870 (15th Amendment). Women in 1920 (Amend. 19), and 18-20-year-olds in 1971 (Amend. 26).

(4) The drafters restricted for whom citizens could vote. Still today, we won’t be voting for president next November. The Constitution says our president will be selected, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" appointed by each "State...in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” (Art. 2, Sec. 1.)

(5) Nor could “the people" even select U.S. senators. "The Senate...shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof." (Art. 1, Sec. 3; changed in 1913, Amend. 17.)

(6) Thus, respect for Justice Scalia’s search for “original meaning” should preclude Senators Mitch McConnell’s and Charles Grassley’s deference to a “people’s voice” in the judicial confirmation process. [Photo of Senator Charles Grassley.]

(7) Even if constitutionally relevant, which it’s not, that people’s voice was clearly heard with the election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012. And the Constitution offers no hint that a president's judicial appointment power is any less on the last day of their presidency than on the first.

(8) If the popular vote in presidential elections is “the people’s voice,” what is it saying? At best, a majority’s preference between two candidates.

(9) Although not constitutionally compelling, theoretically a presidential campaign could turn on one single, dominant issue. But that wasn’t true in 2008 or 2012. Clearly, neither of those elections raised, let alone resolved, the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to undertake confirmation proceedings.

(10) These points are equally applicable to Senator McConnell’s insistence that the 2014 election of Republican senators was a people’s voice for Senate refusal to hold judicial confirmation proceedings.

The Constitution’s drafters knew the court’s justices could only function as intended if the public believed they were independent and non-partisan, able, honest and just.

The Republican Senate leadership’s response to Judge Garland is wrong, both constitutionally and in their "people's voice" rationale. It also further erodes public confidence in our unique and precious judicial institutions.

Whether they are also wrong that their chosen path will best serve their political self-interest we will only know after the people's voice is unambiguously heard in next November’s Senate elections.
_______________
Former law professor Nicholas Johnson served as a law clerk at both the U.S. Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and maintains nicholasjohnson.org and FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com. Contact him at mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org.

Notes

Footnote 1. "There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions [regarding the probability of my Senate confirmation]. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. . . . For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored." ["Bork Gives Reasons for Continuing Fight," The New York Times/Associated Press, October 10, 1987.]

Footnote 2. In The Gazette's hard copy version of the column, this paragraph was edited to read: "Given that the Republican Party professes a literal reading of the Constitution, their Senate leaders’ refusal to vote is difficult to square with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork." The numbering is also removed from the numbered paragraphs.

Footnote 3. "'The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue. So let's give them a voice,' Mr. McConnell said in an animated speech on the Senate floor." Carl Hulse, "Supreme Court Showdown Could Shape Fall Elections," New York Times (online), March 17, 2016, p. A1; and, "'It's not about him because we're living by the principle "let the people have a voice,"' [Senator Chuck] Grassley said." "Grassley, Garland Reprise '90s Court Fight; The Two Are Set to Meet for a Private Breakfast Today," The Gazette, April 12, 2016, p. A1; The Gazette (online), April 12, 2016, 6:05 p.m.

# # #

The Constitution, Supreme Court, and People’s Voice
Nicholas Johnson
The Daily Iowan, April 15,2016, p. 4 (not yet available online, 160415)

The Constitution mandates the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the supreme Court."

President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland on Feb. 13.

Of course, any senator can vote “no” on Garland’s confirmation.

That’s not enough for today’s Republican Senate leadership. They reject the entire confirmation process.

President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork went badly. But Bork insisted on full Senate debate and the losing vote because “A crucial [constitutional] principle is at stake . . . the deliberative process.”

Thus, the leadership’s refusal to vote conflicts with both their professed allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution and its interpretation by their poster judge, Robert Bork.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Grassley say they want to "give the people a voice" in the appointment of judges. Let’s examine their rationale.

(1) For starters, the Constitution’s drafters were more interested in muffling the people’s voice than in amplifying it. Major issues would be resolved by elected representatives, not national referenda.

(2) Restrictions limited direct elections. Our Constitution still says our president is selected, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" appointed by each "State . . . in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Nor could “the people" select U.S. senators. "The Senate . . . shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof" (changed in 1913).

(3) There were even further restrictions on who could vote — initially white, males, over 21, who owned land. African-Americans got the vote in 1870, women in 1920, and 18-20-year-olds in 1971.

(4) This history, plus the leadership’s respect for the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s search for the Constitution’s “original meaning,” should preclude any reference to a “people’s voice” in the confirmation process.

(5) What is “the people’s voice” saying in presidential elections? At best, a majority’s preference between two candidates. Even if constitutionally relevant, which it’s not, that people’s voice was clearly heard in President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 elections. And the Constitution offers no hint that a president's judicial appointment power is any less on the last day of their presidency than on the first.

(6) Theoretically a presidential campaign could turn on one single, dominant issue. Clearly, neither the 2008 nor 2012 election raised, let alone resolved, the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to undertake confirmation proceedings.

(7) These points are equally applicable to Senator McConnell’s insistence that the 2014 election of Republican senators was a “people’s voice” authorizing his abandoning the constitutionally mandated confirmation process.

The Constitution’s drafters knew the court’s justices could only function as intended if the public believed they were independent and non-partisan, able, honest and just.

The Republican Senate leadership’s response to Judge Garland is wrong, both constitutionally and in their "people's voice" rationale. It also further erodes public confidence in our unique and precious judicial institutions.

Whether they are wrong that their chosen path will best serve their political self-interest we will only know after the people's voice is unambiguously heard in next November’s Senate elections.

# # #

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Won't Media Give Bernie a Break?

First read these quotes from this morning's media coverage of last evening's Democratic primary and caucuses (emphases supplied; footnotes [in brackets] go to sources' links at bottom of this page).

Second, look at the facts -- the actual percentages of the votes received, and delegates allocated.

Third, tell me if you think the media's language honestly squares with professional, independent journalism, based on those facts.

Quotes from Media's March 23 Reports of March 22 Primary and Caucuses
Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump overwhelmed their rivals in the Arizona primaries on Tuesday, a show of might from two presidential front-runners . . .. Mrs. Clinton’s commanding victory in Arizona, where 75 Democratic delegates were at stake, gave her the night’s biggest prize, and her margin there was substantial enough that Mr. Sanders was unlikely to emerge with significantly more delegates, . . .. [1; (New York Times)]

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton scored easy victories Tuesday in Arizona, the largest and most-watched of the day’s three electoral contests. . . . The large margin is a blow to her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had staked a comeback on Arizona. [2; (Washington Post)]

Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz both campaigned hard in Arizona, hoping to score upsets over their party’s front-runner in the most populous of the three states that voted Tuesday. They got crushed. [3; (Washington Post)]

Clinton's win in Arizona prevented the Vermont senator from cutting deeply into her delegate lead by night's end. [4; (Associated Press)]
Actual Percentages of Votes Received and Delegates Allocated
Utah Caucus

Sanders: 79.7% of participants; 24 delegates
Clinton: 19.8% of participants; 5 delegates [5]

Idaho Caucus

Sanders: 78.0% of participants; 17 delegates
Clinton: 21.2% of participants; 5 delegates [6]

Arizona Primary

Sanders: 39.9% of the votes; 26 delegates
Clinton: 57.6% of the votes; 41 delegates [7]

Total Delegates Allocated

Sanders: 67
Clinton: 51 [5, 6, 7]

Professional, Independent Journalism?"

So, what do you think?

Do you think Sanders was "overwhelmed" by Clinton's "commanding victory" and "show of might"? Would you say, in this context, that Sanders' 67 delegates are not "significantly more" than Clinton's 51? Would you say that Sanders "got crushed," or suffered a "blow" from her "large margin" of voters and delegates in Arizona?

The real story of this Democratic primary is not that Clinton has more delegates than Sanders. The man-bites-dog story of this primary is that Sanders has won any delegates. It's the political equivalent of a junior high basketball team somehow sneaking into the NCAA's March Madness, and making it to the final four.
Clinton has been national figure for decades, the presumed ultimate nominee, and started with a substantial army of friends and supporters throughout the country. Sanders had little to no history with the American people outside of Vermont, name recognition in the low single digits and little to no national media exposure.

Clinton has had the support of the Democratic National Committee, most elected Democratic officials, is married to a two-term popular former president, was appointed to the top cabinet post by another two-term popular president, and had the prior experience of running for the presidential nomination in 2008. Sanders was not even a Democrat -- or a member of any other political party. He's a 74-year-old (she's 68) Jew from Brooklyn, living in Vermont, serving in the Senate as an "Independent," who says he's a "Democratic Socialist." He started with support from few if any Party officials, and had never run for office outside of his tiny home state of Vermont.

Clinton (and her husband) started with substantial personal wealth, the support of multi-million-dollar PACs, Wall Street banks and hedge fund managers, billionaires and other wealthy persons, access to the nation's most experienced campaign managers, advisers, and former staff of their own, and long time contacts throughout the media. Sanders started with virtually no money at all, and has stubbornly insisted on funding his campaign with small contributions from the American people while refusing to take money from PACs and billionaires.
I could go on with these contrasts, but you get the idea.

The point is, given these contrasts, I think the media ought to give their audience, and Bernie, a break. They should acknowledge what an extraordinary accomplishment he represents -- the enormous crowds he attracts, the first time participants he's brought into the Democratic Party, his ability to keep up with, or exceed, Clinton's fund-raising ability, and yes, the number of delegates he has won competing against the Clinton powerhouse. That's the story of this primary season -- and of last night's results, not that Clinton got more voters than he did from Arizona. Given the difference in their inherent political strength, and the Clintons' contacts throughout the sate, it would have been remarkable enough if he had received 20% of the votes in Arizona -- the percentage that she got in Utah and Idaho. That he won as much as 40% is overwhelming. That he actually came out of the evening with more total delegates than she had is unbelievable!

Finally, a word about a word: "won." It's bad enough that the media turns politics into a horse race rather than a national dialogue about issues and public policy. But applying the word "won" to a primary or caucus in which there is a proportional allocation of delegates based on numbers of votes, or persons, is downright misleading -- whether done intentionally or out of ignorance. It would be especially hilarious if not so serious, when the "winner" is only separated from the "loser" by fractions of one percent. Trump "won" Arizona -- if one insists on using the word -- because, for the Republicans it was a "winner takes all" state. Clinton did not "win" Arizona in that sense -- because for the Democrats the delegates were assigned proportionately, based on percentage of the vote each received.

Links to Sources

[1] Jonathan Martin, "Clinton and Trump Win Arizona; Cruz Picks Up Utah; Sanders Takes 2, New York Times (online), March 23, 2016

[2] Anne Gearan and Jenna Johnson, "Clinton, Trump Win Delegate-Rich Arizona, but Falter in Utah and Idaho," Washington Post (online), March 22, 2016

[3] James Hohmann, "Arizona, Utah Results Give Stop Trump Movement Reasons to Both Hope and Dispair," Washington Post, March 23, 2016

[4] Calvin Woodward, "Arizona Goes For Trump, Clinton," Associated Press, March 23, 2016

[5] "Utah Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[6] "Idaho Caucus; Democratic," Google, March 23, 2016

[7] "Arizona Primary; Democratic," March 23, 2016

# # #

Monday, March 21, 2016

The People's Voice, Constitution, and Supreme Court

"Our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy."

-- Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, U.S. Senate [Jennifer Steinhaueer, "Mitch McConnell Speaks Out on Garland," New York Times (online), March 16, 2016, 12:21 PM ET]

The Republican Senate leadership, in the person of Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell, greeted Senator Barack Obama's 2008 election as President of the United States with the candid declaration that its purpose, its focus going forward would be to make Obama's a failed, one-term presidency.

This month that goal has played out in the context of a Supreme Court appointment. Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, on March 16 President Obama sent the Senate his nomination of Justice Scalia's replacement.

This followed the Constitutional provision that the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court . . .." [Article 2, Section 2.]

Following their make-Obama-fail game plan, the Republican leadership's response has taken the form of not just failing to confirm the President's nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland -- following one-on-one meetings, committee hearings and floor debate -- but a refusal to even undertake any of those traditional preliminaries to confirmation. [Photo of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit; credit: CNN]

No public official or journalist has suggested that the Senate is required to confirm President Obama's nominee. Each Republican (and Democratic) senator has the constitutional right and opportunity to vote "No" on the confirmation of Judge Garland -- just as they did when they voted down President Ronald Reagan's 1987 nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court (by a vote of 42-58 on October 23).

The issue is, rather, whether they have the right to refuse to undertake any and all elements of the process the Constitution requires of them.

It is noteworthy, with regard to this year's Supreme Court nominee, what Judge Bork said following the Senate committee's rejection of his nomination:
There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions [regarding the probability of my Senate confirmation]. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. . . . For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored.
["Bork Gives Reasons for Continuing Fight," The New York Times/Associated Press, October 10, 1987.]

For a political party whose leaders professes as much allegiance to a literal reading of the Constitution as of the Bible, it is a little difficult to square their rejection of the confirmation process with either the language of the Constitution or its interpretation by their poster Judge, Robert Bork.

All they have been able to come up with is a profession of a desire to "give the people a voice" in the selection of Supreme Court justices (quoted at the top of this blog essay). What they seem to mean by "voice" is postponing the Senate's responsibility until after the next presidential election -- in part, some contend, in a self-serving effort to convince their base how important it is to retain Republican control of the Senate by reelecting the Republicans already there.

Whatever their motives may be, rational support for this "people's voice" assertion is somewhere between difficult and impossible to find.

(1) For starters, those who drafted the Constitution went out of their way to insure that the people's voice would be muffled by what we today refer to as "the establishment."

(2) No one was thinking of a direct democracy, like a New England town meeting. They designed a representative democracy, in which elected officials would make all the decisions.

(3) And there were significant restrictions on who could even vote -- a privilege first limited to land-owning, white, males over 21 years of age. African-Americans, who weren't even counted for more than 60% of their number (Article I, Section 2), weren't granted a right to vote until 1870 (Amendment XV). Women had to wait until 1920 (Amendment XIX), and 18-20-year-olds until 1971 (Amendment XXVI).

(4) Even the few who did get to vote weren't trusted with the power to elect, or not, those running for office. To this day, even those who do get to vote don't get to vote for their president. The drafters saw to that. Article II provides that the actual selection of the president will be made, not by the people's voice or vote, but by "electors" (appointed by each "state . . . in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct . . .").

(5) And, senators take note, nor did the drafters envision that the vote or voice of "the people" would be doing the selection of senators, either. Article I, Section 3 ("The Senate . . . shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof . . .." This was left unchanged until 1913, with the passage of Amendment XVII.)

(6) In short, the drafters of the Constitution did not envision a role for a "people's voice" in the sense that Senator McConnell is using the words (the results of a presidential election).

(7) Even if the "voice of the people" was constitutionally relevant in that context, that voice was heard in both 2008 and 2012 -- President Obama not only having been elected, but then re-elected. And there is, of course, no constitutional time limit on the president's judicial appointment power -- he or she has as much of that power on the last day of their presidency as they had on the first day.

(8) Moreover, to the extent the popular vote in a presidential election can be said to be an expression of the people's voice, that voice does not clearly say anything beyond their choice between the two major parties' nominees for the office. And even that message is not all that clear. Many eligible American voters don't bother to vote. Others hold their nose when they do, picking "the lesser of the two evils."

(9) Although it still wouldn't be constitutionally compelling, it would be theoretically possible that a presidential election would be fought out between two candidates taking opposite positions on one single, dominant issue -- perhaps like the Lincoln-Douglas debates regarding slavery. But that was not the case in either 2008 or 2012 -- those elections did not even raise (to the best of my present memory) an issue regarding the Senate's constitutional right to refuse to consider a president's judicial nomination, let alone turn on such an issue.

(10) All of these responses are equally applicable to Senator McConnell's suggestion that the "people's voice" in 2014, re-electing a Republican majority to the U.S. Senate, supports the Republican leadership's current intransigence. (a) Each of those individual senators' elections had multiple variables affecting the outcome. And (b) even if a case could be made that a single dominant issue in all of those campaigns (won by Republicans) was a desire that their senator vote "no" on the confirmation of potential justices perceived as "liberal," that would only support the theory of a "people's voice" for "no" votes on some nominees, not support for the leadership's refusal to engage in the confirmation process at all.

Therefore, it seems to me, the Republican Senate leadership is wrong in the position it has staked out with regard to President Obama's nomination of Judge Garland -- both as a matter of constitutional interpretation, and in terms of their "people's voice" talking point argument. Whether they are also wrong as a matter of their own political best interests we will only know after we hear the people's voice next November.

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I'd like to add a personal note regarding the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court. From an early age I've been aware of the Supreme Court and its justices. I majored in political science in college, and was blessed with a remarkable constitutional law professor in law school who strengthened those early interests. This was followed with clerkships -- first with a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, and then a justice of the Supreme Court. I've subsequently taught con law, as we call it, on occasion. So my support of the institution of the Supreme Court is emotional as well as intellectual.

This may reveal a measure of naivete if not outright ignorance, but I can honestly say that I do not recall during my year at the Court (the 1959-60 Term) conversations with, or writings of, justices, law clerks, or other Court employees even revealing partisan (i.e., political party) preferences, and certainly not overt advocacy. The focus was on the facts and the law as revealed in the briefs, oral arguments, our own research, and ultimately our justices' printed opinions.

I've always thought that orientation was a part of the genius of the idea of a non-political, independent, institution made up of nine individuals with lifetime appointments, not subservient to either the Executive or Legislative branches of our federal government. It made possible the resolution of conflicts between the other branches (and also the states) that might otherwise have thrown our nation in chaos.

Its power, such as it was, came not from armies, multi-billion-dollar appropriations, or the delivery of votes. It came from a largely unarticulated agreement among Americans regarding their preference for this non-violent means of dispute resolution, and the ethics (rather than campaign contributions) that drove its decisions.

Theater was used to re-enforce this ideal. Justices wore black robes. They entered the Court from behind a curtain, through which they returned to their chambers after the oral arguments. They sat at a bench raised above the level of those in attendance. In my day the podium for a lawyer arguing before the Court came complete with what were, literally, quill pens. High metal gates closed the hallways leading to their chambers. During my year they very rarely, if ever, appeared in public, or sat for print or television interviews. Their social life was restricted. And in their professional life they had no constituents as such, and were rarely if ever visited by lobbyists, or lawyers with cases pending before the Court. No one but the justices was permitted to be present during their secret deliberations regarding Court opinions. When an opinion was final, they would come out from behind the curtain once again, take their nine assigned seats in the Court, and read the opinions to those in attendance.

The trust that gives the Court the power we need for it to have is a fragile thing. It is easily destroyed by public anticipation of predictable 5-4 votes, and journalists' talk of "liberal" and "conservative" justices whose votes can be easily guessed if one knows the political party to which they, and the president who nominated them, belonged.

Those who wrote our Constitution did not conceive of the Supreme Court as yet a third political branch of government. They knew it could only play the role for which they fashioned it if the public believed it was special, trustworthy, independent, honest and just -- and if the public was correct in so believing.

What today's Republican Senate leadership is doing with regard to President Obama and his nomination of Judge Garland is not only a violation of the Constitution's provisions regarding such nominations, it is also further contributing to the erosion of the public's perception of this unique and precious American institution.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Random Thoughts on Tuition-Free Iowa Universities

Links to Contents' Sub-Headings
Political Viability
Economic Analysis
Precedent and Incrementalism
Non-Monetary Benefits
Conclusion
I've been thinking about tuition-free Iowa universities. There are no conclusions, or proposals, at this point; just random thoughts.

Political Viability

A tuition-free college education is obviously not a politically viable idea in Iowa at this time. The state's ideologically-driven Republican governor and House of Representatives are focused on cutting taxes while providing financial incentives for business, and privatizing historic governmental functions. The Board of Regents has selected a president for the University of Iowa with a business background whom they hope can "run the University more like a business" while cutting its share of state funding even further.

But that doesn't mean there's no point in thinking about the idea, or that it would have no political support.

For starters, we're talking about Iowa's 15 community colleges as well as its three Regents' universities. Indeed, a stronger case can be made for the former than the latter. It costs less to add two years to our K-12 system than to add four. And the benefits might even be greater. As former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner wrote in his little book, Excellence (1961), “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Surely families that would like to send their children to college, but cannot afford the tuition, would support such a program -- especially if the child in question would become the first in the family to do so. Iowa's rural communities would have access to more and better trained trades people, entrepreneurs, members of Richard Florida's "creative class," and others necessary to the communities' sustainable growth and quality of life. (See, e.g., James Fallows, "How America is Putting Itself Back Together," The Atlantic, March 2016.)

Tuition-free college and community college would benefit all Iowans, not just some college bound wealthy elite.

Economic Analysis

Admittedly, many of the reasons to provide tuition-free college involve values other than economic -- of which more later. But what arguments might be fashioned to appeal to those who, as the saying has it, "know the price of everything and the value of nothing"?

It's not like this is a wild and crazy radical idea that has never been tried. We provided tuition-free college for returning veterans of World War II as part of the GI Bill. In Michael Moore's film, "Where to Invade Next," he shows a list of some 21 countries that are, today, offering tuition-free or incredibly cheap college (some restricted to their own citizens, but others offering the deal to all students, including Americans). [Photo of Freie Universitat of Berlin]

Presumably those countries have some data indicating an economic justification for these arrangements. The economic impact of New York's CUNY and SUNY institutions, and California's 1960-1975 "Master Plan for Higher Education" would also be worth exploring. ("The two governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.")

"Tuition-free" is not "free." Academically qualified high school graduates who cannot afford the costs of board and room, books, and the loss of what would otherwise have been earned over four years, will still be denied higher education. But those who can and do pursue more education will be able to generate more income for their employers, and themselves. Not only will they boost Iowa's economy by spending more as consumers, they will also be contributing the purchasing immediately made possible by the absence of years of paying off student loans' principal and interest.

What if the data does show that the return on this investment of public funds, in the form of jobs and profits, turns out to be many multiples of its cost? Would there be a point at which even the tax-cutting naysayers might see a proposal for tuition-free college in the way they now view the creation and maintenance of the interstate highway system?

Precedent and Incrementalism

It's important to note the distinction between (a) funding a entirely new program, and (b) an incremental increase in funding a preexisting program. To provide tuition-free college and community college education for Iowans would not be the first time public money would be used to educate the state's people. Iowa had its first one-room school in 1830, and by 1910 was one of the first states to have a statewide system of high schools.

There is not unanimous support for public education; some parents prefer private schools, or home schooling. But for some 250 years in the United States (and in other countries as well) there has been near-unanimous recognition of (a) the citizen's right to education, and (b) the desirability of, indeed society's need for, an educated citizenry. Soon the requirement was not only for citizens' access to free public education, but for their compulsory education. The 1966 "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" expressed the right this way: "Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. . .." Article 13 (2)(c).

This presidential election year has brought tuition-free higher education into the national discussion of public policy, such as it is. It's one of Senator Bernie Sanders' main talking points. Secretary Hillary Clinton, by contrast, advocates a more needs-based system. So far as I am aware, there has seldom if ever been an argument that free primary and secondary education should be limited to families in financial need, with all other parents paying full cost. If a distinction is to be made for higher education a persuasive rationale for doing so should be provided. (The one exception involves, not tuition, but the fee for a student's lunch. Those able to do so pay the cost of the meal; students of lesser means receive lunch for free, or at reduced cost -- a program subsidized by federal taxpayers.)

While there is squabbling over precise amounts, there is a clear majority that generally accepts that the societal benefits of free K-12 education exceed its cost to taxpayers. Counting Iowa's primary and secondary schools sources of federal, state, and local revenue, Iowa's approximately 350 school districts receive a total of about $6 billion a year of taxpayers' money. (Extrapolating to America's 50 million school age children, the national commitment would be on the order of $500 billion, or one-half trillion dollars a year).

To these numbers we would need to add what the three Regents' universities are already receiving: federal, state and local financial support in the billions (federal research projects and Pell grants; state appropriations; and local counties' inability to collect property taxes from the universities' tax-exempt property).

The point? While the cost of providing Iowans a tuition-free college education is not insignificant, the largest financial commitment to public education already exists. Tuition-free college merely adds two or four years to the 13 years of education we're already funding for K-12.

Non-Monetary Benefits

Economists called upon to do benefit-cost analyses of, say, public parks, may calculate the economic "benefits" by totaling what users are willing to spend in the per-mile costs of driving to and from the park. Most of us (including some of those economists) would argue that such calculations are almost worthless. What is the "value" to a family of a day at the beach, public library, or touring some of the Smithsonian's buildings in Washington? What mother, father, or child would measure the value of a day's conversations while fishing -- with or without a catch -- by the cost of the fishing tackle and bait?

So it is with education. It has economic value, for the society and the individual, as discussed above. But it has so much more. The before and after impact it can have on every moment of one's life is like the difference between watching a TV soap opera on an old small screen black-and-white TV, and being able to understand and enjoy a classic drama, or symphony orchestra (or NFL game) on a high definition, color, big wall screen. Intuitively (and with some supporting data) proportionately more of those with more education are likely to be healthier, happier, wiser investors, more effective parents, and otherwise get more out of day-to-day living than those with less.

From the beginning of America's public education, one of the perceived needs and driving purposes has been to prepare students for participation -- with information, intelligence, civility, morality, and a sense of responsibility -- as citizens in a self-governing democracy. That need is, if anything, even greater today than 250 years ago.

These non-monetary values are reflected in the United Nation's 1948 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," Article 26. Like the "International Covenant," above, it declares that "(1) Everyone has the right to education. . . . [H]igher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." But it goes on to explain that, "(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Many would find these non-monetary benefits of tuition-free education as persuasive a reason for funding higher education as for primary and secondary education -- and certainly so when added to the economic benefits.

Conclusion

So, is there a conclusion after all? Not yet. However, it is my opinion that the case can be made that adding two to four years of additional education to our publicly-funded K-12 system -- updating it, as it were, from the high school requirements of an agricultural and industrial age over 100 years ago -- is well worth our exploring further.

As has been said, "When the people will lead, their leaders will follow." Regardless of the ideological orientation of Iowa's elected officials, the first step will have to be something on the order of Bernie Sanders' "political revolution." The people of Iowa will need to care, to study these issues, make higher education a priority, organize, demonstrate, and demand the benefits that tuition-free higher education has to offer for all Iowans.

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